The FIS World Cup is returning to Canada in 2012.
After a two year hiatus, International Ski Federation (FIS) Cross Country Skiing World Cup competitions will resume in North America, as a brand-new Quebec City site will be unveiled before the show heads west to the Rockies and Canmore, Alberta.
According to Norbert Meier, Chair of the Alberta World Cup Society, there will be World Cup races held on December 8th and 9th in Canmore, and December 15th and 16th in Quebec City, with the possibility of a mid-week non-World Cup race on Thursday in Canmore.
As the Canmore Nordic Center recently underwent a multi-million dollar upgrade, it is set to hold races with no further upgrades, while the current plan for the Quebec City World Cup is to use a downtown site.
In terms of specific events, Meier said that his group “has preferences, but it’s up to the FIS and CCC to decide the specific formats.”
From December 6-9, 2012, Quebec City will play host to the FIS World Cup for the first time in Canadian history, featuring a freestyle sprint.
According to CCC Director of Marketing and Events Dave Dyer, part of the reason Quebec City became a viable host was to build the capacity to host high-level races in Eastern Canada. Currently Canada has just four homologated sites – Canmore, Alberta, Whistler, B.C., Sovereign Lake, B.C., and one on the East Coast – which are able to host World Cup events, but three of the four are in the West.
“65% of the recreational skiers in Canada live in Quebec and Ontario, hence there is tremendous potential to tap into this resource and introduce the sport to youth in these areas,” wrote Dyer in an e-mail to FasterSkier.
“We know that a World Cup event in Quebec, with Alex and Devon on the top of their game will generate tremendous excitement, a huge media following and perhaps ignite a dream in a young 8 year old,” he wrote.
In terms of infrastructure, there remains some work to be done. Dyer explained that Mont Ste-Anne is currently in the midst of a feasibility study which could include the construction of paved roller ski trails, the introduction of snow making, and fully homologated World Cup trails.
However, Dyer does not believe all of the MSA site upgrades would be ready for the World Cup in December of 2012.
“We don’t expect all the upgrades to be completed by December 2012, however once funding is sourced a priority list of projects including a shift in the stadium and new sprint courses will begin,” he wrote. “These elements might be ready for 2012, but that will depend on the level and speed of support from their partners.”
However, Dyer did say that both CCC and the FIS is committed to the downtown location, and regardless of the upgrades at MSA, the World Cup will be run in the city.
In an e-mail to FasterSkier earlier this year, FIS Cross-Country Director Jurg Capol confirmed that the FIS was focused on the city as the main venue, with a sprint and team sprint in mind.
Before any new location can host a World Cup, a test event must be run by the organizing committee. For Quebec City, the test run will the 2011 Haywood Ski Nationals, which according to Dyer will use existing Mont St Anne trails, as well as a downtown sprint location.
Scheduled for late March, which will allow the Canadian World Cup athletes to compete, Dyer is also hoping for some international talent.
“We hope that top Canadian, US and some invited Europeans will be able to race in part of the Ski Nationals this year, including the sprint,” he wrote.
While many are envisioning a city sprint down the cobble stone streets of Old Quebec, it won’t be happening for Haywood Ski Nationals in 2011.
In a recent interview with FasterSkier, Dyer made it clear that shutting down the city core was something that CCC and the organizing committee for the National Championships was going to avoid. Instead, the sprint will be held on the Plains of Abraham, a large area of green space in downtown.
While the test event will not be held on the major streets of the city, according to a press release by the organizing group Gestev, the World Cup is to be run in the streets of Old Quebec.
However, Dyer was hesitant to say that Gestev, a group which has a record of being involved with major sporting events in Quebec City, including Red Bull Crashed Ice, was going to be able to run the event in Old Quebec, indicating that plenty of work still needed to be done to finalize that plan.
Dyer also indicated that course considerations were to play a part in where exactly in the city the sprint would be held, as he wasn’t sure if a sprint in the old city would meet the FIS qualifications.
While the 2012 Nationals are the test event, Dyer made it clear that FIS was not looking for exact courses to be confirmed in March, “the test event is really to get the organizing committee together, and get them to operate as a group,” he said.
One of the biggest issues North American World Cups have had in the past is the low turnout compared to European events.
Norbert Meier assured FasterSkier drawing more international skiers was a key consideration in the process to host World Cups.
“The idea with the race formats is to use the number of races we have as a draw,” he said. “That way there will just be too many World Cup points on the line for them to miss.”
As a result, Meier said that providing a good mix of races would be important to draw both sprinters and distance skiers. Meier also said that the dates fell into a good range – after the early season Scandinavian World Cup swing, but before the Tour de Ski.
The Canadians lucked out in the scheduling, according to Dyer, as at the recent FIS meetings the Cross Country Committee modified the 2012-2013 World Cup schedule, dropping the World Cup in La Clusaz, France, from its traditional pre-Christmas slot.
“This now gives skiers ten days before the start of the Tour,” wrote Dyer. “We were worried before this happened that skiers might choose to skip either the Canadian dates or La Clusaz weekend. There is more certainty now, but nothing is guaranteed.”
Capol agreed with Dyer, and felt that the FIS did its best to encourage participation.
“From planning point of view, we cancelled the [World Cup race] weekend on December 21 and 22 before Christmas, which means we reduced the World Cup load and supported the Canadian program even more,” he wrote.
However, there is still potential for scheduling conflict, primarily with the Tour de Ski.
In an interview with Devon Kershaw earlier this year, the World Champ expressed some concern with the placement of the races.
“I don’t really know who is going to come over. If people are gunning for the Tour de Ski, and it’s a championship year, are people really going to want to get on a plane, stop in Quebec, and then head to western Canada?” he said.
Both Gestev and CCC mentioned the success of Kershaw and fellow World Champion Alex Harvey as a factor in the decision to host a race in Quebec.
“With the boys [Alex Harvey, Devon Kershaw, Ivan Babikov and Len Valjas] skiing so well right now, it has the potential to be a big draw,” Dyer said.
But Kershaw voiced some doubt as to whether the Canadians would even be present “We’ll have to see when that year comes, but even for us, do we go to Europe to prepare for the Tour de Ski?”
However, that decision is still over a year away, and for now, the Canadians are just enjoying the return of the World Cup to Canada.
“Racing in Canada rules!” said Kershaw
Norbert Meier believes that the 2012 World Cups will have the greatest turnout ever. “Cross country skiing has never had such a high profile in Canada. We know people are going to be excited to see the races.”